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Seven Finalists Named for 2019 Chautauqua Prize

Chautauqua Institution is pleased to announce seven exceptional books as the 2019 finalists for The Chautauqua Prize, now in its eighth year:

  • Little, by Edward Carey (Riverhead Books)
  • The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth, by Ken Krimstein (Bloomsbury)
  • Heavy: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon (Scribner)
  • The Overstory, by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton)
  • Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, by Elizabeth Rush (Milkweed Editions)
  • All the Names They Used for God, by Anjali Sachdeva (Spiegel & Grau)
  • The Mercy Seat, by Elizabeth H. Winthrop (Grove Press)

The winning book will be selected from this shortlist and announced in late May.

From author, playwright and illustrator Edward Carey, Little is a wry, macabre novel of an ambitious orphan in Revolutionary Paris, befriended by royalty and radicals, who transforms herself into the legendary Madame Tussaud. A story of art, class, determination, Little is a “unique, readable, well-crafted and well-written book,” one Prize reader wrote, “… (that) captures place, characters and events in a fascinating way.” Several compared Carey’s work of “tremendous depth and scope” to that of Charles Dickens, and called Little “a small masterpiece of modern literature.”

In The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth — the first graphic novel to be named a finalist for The Chautauqua Prize — New Yorker cartoonist Ken Krimstein presents a page-turning biography of Hannah Arendt, one of the greatest, and unsung, philosophers of the 20th century. Prize readers described Three Escapes as “edifying, educational, timely, original, and even entertaining,” “replete with wit, erudition and clarity (that) is moving and unsettling.” Being immersed in Krimstein’s drawings, one reader wrote, is an “incomparable experience.”

A personal narrative that illuminates national failures, Kiese Laymon’s powerful and provocative Heavy: An American Memoir is defiant yet vulnerable, an insightful exploration of weight — in many forms — as well as identity, art, friendship, family and the concept of responsible love. Readers declared it “one of the most moving books I have ever read,” and “thought-provoking, gut-wrenching, well written,” as Laymon details what is both “painful and joyous about living.” “Disturbing, difficult, fascinating,” one wrote, “… it feels like truth from the heart.”

In his 12th novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and recently named the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, Richard Powers creates an evocation of, and paean to, the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables, creating a “call to arms,” one reader wrote, from an author who “is an advocate for our planet at a level that few writers could ever hope to achieve.” “It is complicated yet accessible,” and “stunningly beautiful in nearly every section. … The writing is brilliant.”

Rising seas are transforming the coastline of the United States in irrevocable ways. In Pulitzer finalist and 2019 Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection Rising, Elizabeth Rush guides readers through some of the places where this change has been most dramatic, privileging the voices of those too often kept at the margins. The results are eloquent dispatches, in which readers found Rush’s reporting to be “both bleak and beautiful, lyrical testaments to change and uncertainty.” The “lush prose, challenging in its topic,” captured readers “from beginning to end.”

The short stories in Anjali Sachdeva’s debut collection, All the Names They Used for God, break down genre barriers — from science fiction to American Gothic to magical realism to horror — and are united by each character’s brutal struggle with fate. Prize readers lauded “the sheer variety of subjects and imaginative plots,” and Sachdeva’s “fluid, imaginative treatment” of each story in the collection. As reader “bridge the real and the surreal,” they found themselves considering “the ways in which myth, fantasy, technology and destiny play out” in their own lives.

An incisive, meticulously crafted portrait of race, racism, and injustice in the Jim Crow-era South that is as intimate and tense as a stage drama, Elizabeth H. Winthrop’s novel The Mercy Seat is a stunning account of one town’s foundering over a trauma in their midst: the impending execution of 18-year-old Willie Jones. Readers described The Mercy Seat as “perfect,” “tight” and “unpredictable,” as moving as it was “a pleasure to read.” As Winthrop moves smoothly from voice to voice, character to character, readers “could not put down this book.”


Awarded annually since 2012, The Chautauqua Prize draws upon Chautauqua Institution’s considerable literary legacy to celebrate a book that provides a richly rewarding reading experience and to honor the author for a significant contribution to the literary arts. The author of the winning book will receive $7,500 and all travel and expenses for a one-week summer residency at Chautauqua. For more information, visit


With a history steeped in the literary arts, Chautauqua Institution is the home of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, founded in 1878, which honors at least nine outstanding books of fiction, nonfiction, essays and poetry with community discussions and author presentations every summer. Further literary arts programs at Chautauqua include the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival, which convenes writers each June in workshops, panels, and other conversations that draw fruitful and urgent connections between the personal, the political and the craft of writing, as well as the summer-long workshops, craft lectures and readings from some of the very best author-educators in North America at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.


The pre-eminent expression of lifelong learning in the United States, Chautauqua Institution comes alive each summer with a unique mix of fine and performing arts, lectures, interfaith worship and programs, and recreational activities. Over the course of nine weeks, more than 100,000 people visit Chautauqua and participate in programs, classes and community events for all ages — all within the beautiful setting of a historic lakeside village. As a community, we celebrate, encourage and study the arts and treat them as integral to all of learning, and we convene the critical conversations of the day to advance understanding through civil dialogue.

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